John Trumbull’s famous painting “The Declaration of Independence” will surely retain its position at the Yale University Art Gallery, but it may soon be surrounded by African masks, Chinese pseudo-calligraphy, Indonesian textiles, Javanese gold and Japanese objects.
The Yale University Art Gallery plans to acquire more international art, in keeping with the University’s stated mission of expanding its global presence. Already, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of international art acquired through gifts and purchases.
Gallery Director Jock Reynolds said this is necessary because the concept of art has become broader and more global in today’s world.
“Art is becoming more international, artists are connected everywhere from China to Africa to the Middle East to Europe to America,” Reynolds told the News.
Since its founding in 1832, the gallery has largely focused on extending its American and European collections, while international art remained largely underrepresented. But not anymore.
Susan Matheson, chief curator and acting director at the gallery, said that while it is difficult to reach an immediate balance in the amount of international and national art, there has certainly been a quantum leap.
“We had almost no African art; now we have a large collection of African objects, as well as recently acquired South Asian and Japanese art,” Matheson said.
She added that the increasing number of international students and faculty at Yale indicates the broadening of our society, which the gallery intends to reflect in its representation of different cultures in art.
Diversity and global presence have been important goals for University President Levin. In a report that outlines the agenda for the internationalization of Yale from 2005 to 2008, Levin emphasized the importance of art collections in increasing the University’s visibility.
“Yale’s phenomenal collections within the museums and libraries are inherently international, and the curators and directors have wide and well developed sets of networks around the world,” the report stated. “The Directors are eager to collaborate to advance the University’s overall internationalization effort, but they have not been systematically engaged.”
Now, it appears, systematic engagement for internationalization is finally happening.
The ongoing cooperation between Yale and China extends to an artistic context. Min Wang ART ’86, design director for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and dean at China Central Academy of Fine Arts, met with President Levin last week to discuss, among other things, future collaboration in art and design between Yale and China CAFA.
Reynolds has already set the goal for the Yale University Art Gallery.
“Yale has a connection with China; we have started to buy artists working today and we need to know more about that,” Reynolds said.
As part of its efforts for acquiring more Chinese art, the Gallery has recently acquired one Ming Dynasty devotional painting, as well as works by two contemporary Chinese artists, Zhang Huan and Xu Bing.
Huan is best known for his photographs of a man whose face is covered entirely by Chinese calligraphy in black ink. Bing experiments with pseudo calligraphy — made-up characters with no meaning — and ways of writing in English with letters that resemble Chinese characters.
David Sensabaugh, curator of Asian Art at the gallery, said Chinese art is currently very much in demand.
“The prices are very high and the auction market is inflated for Chinese art,” Sensabaugh said. The gallery did not disclose the prices for their recent acquisitions.